So You’re an Intern. Now What?

News Room

Where I work. Instagrammed up, for your pleasure.

Three weeks ago, I nervously walked into a hillside glass building in Newport. Clutching a pen and a planner, I opened the door to the Newport Daily News’ atrium. It was not easy, opening that door. I was anxious, yes, but you have to understand. It was a really heavy door.

After prying the first door open with two hands, I then opened the next door easily, and finally I was in. I looked around. There was a front desk, but nobody sat at it; instead, at least ten people sat behind it, at their own desks. I was meeting my bosses Laura and Liz to discuss my hours for an unpaid internship with the NorthEast and the South County Independent. However, I didn’t see them anywhere.

“Hi there,” I said, approaching the front desk and talking to no one in particular. “I’m looking for Laura… The NorthEast Independent?”

Someone looked up, smiled. “Through that door on the right.” I thanked her and moved on.

Laura and Liz brought me to a conference room, where we talked about what I was willing to do. I answered “Anything and everything.” I told them I was willing to come in every weekday to help them in any way I could.

Now, I work for both newspapers, editing photos on Photoshop, writing stories, briefs and obituaries, brainstorming story ideas and updating their Facebooks. It’s not a hard job, but it’s not an easy one, either. Here are a few tips for collegiate interns. If you’re a journalist, all the better.

1. Go above and beyond. You’re probably a very driven person. After all, you landed this internship, probably after many follow-up e-mails and calls. However, now that you’re here, don’t slow down. Make a good impression on your coworkers by working on each assignment like it’s the most important one in your career. The hard work will pay off. Seeing my byline and bycredit (Independent Intern) in the paper always inspires me.

2. Offer to do things you didn’t know you’d be doing. In short, suck it up. You’re an intern. You’re not going to be on the field right away, interviewing the most important people in your state. I started out by proofreading graduation lists, cross-checking all the names to make sure they were spelled right. I then moved on to Dean’s List students, Honor Roll students – you get the picture.

3. On those same lines, don’t groan or bemoan. You’re getting coffee for people, making copies, staring at the same page for hours. You’re frustrated, hurt. But you must not complain. Most likely, your bosses want to know what you’re capable of, what you’re willing to do for them. Who knows – they could surprise you with a cool assignment! I interviewed an Air Force pilot last week, and it was an amazing opportunity.

4. Adhere to the dress code. If your bosses say, “No denim,” don’t wear denim. Not only jeans – this includes white, black and purple denim too. Observe what other people are wearing and follow suit. My bosses wear long dresses and trendy jackets, and even some stylish pumps from time to time. Dress up, and have fun with it!

5. Ask questions. I know. You want to seem like a knowledgeable person. But common sense can’t always help you. If you don’t know how to format something, or where a file goes, or who to contact, ask your boss directly. Don’t hesitate. He or she will be glad that you’re committed to accuracy.

6. Wait until the right moment. If you are going to ask your boss a question, knock on the door first. Make sure he or she is not on the phone, or engaging in conversation with someone else. If they’re stressed – at a newspaper, the most stressful day is the day of or day before publication – wait until they’ve cooled down. You might be avoiding a snappy comment, or the more disappointing sigh of frustration.

7. In downtime, stay on task. You’ve finished your assignments. You’ve checked your email, and there’re no new messages. However, your boss is busy. What should you do? Well, first, do not go on Facebook, Gmail or Twitter, unless you’re on the company’s site. It is so unprofessional, and you’ll probably feel guilty after, anyway. Instead, take out your planner, and brainstorm some questions or ideas for your company. Gather inspiration from other companies. I read the Newport Daily News or the Independent papers when I have nothing to do, and every so often I’ll visit the New York Times, too.

8. Document. If someone tells you to do it this way, and not that way, don’t just nod, mouth slightly open, and say okay. Write it down! Your future self will thank you. This has been especially helpful to me as I slowly learn A.P. style more thoroughly. Who knew that Massachusetts should be abbreviated “Mass.” and not “M.A.”? Well, I did. Because I wrote it down.

9. Strike up conversation. At the very least, be friendly to your coworkers. They want to help you, to guide you on your way to greatness. Being friendly and polite to them will increase your standing with the company itself, and may even belie good networking opportunities. Also, it’s always great to make a new friend who’s also a coworker – cue company inside jokes!

10. Invest in something that will keep you sane. For me, it’s my Blue Finsbury Filofax, a planner that contains a calendar diary, an address book, tabs for to-do lists, and much more. It’s also where I keep my pen, a ruler, a mirror, a post-it notes supply, and even a world map! It’s basically my life. If you’re not the type of person who wants to look like they’re organized, like me, then buy some new shoes or a new album – something that will help you get through the day.

I think it goes without saying that you should have fun, too. But I’ll say it anyway: have fun.

Are you an intern? What was your journey like? What would you add to this list? Comment below or contact me and I might feature your story on this blog! Also, check out my friend Julie’s blog, Summer 2012: Intern, Babysitter, Travler~, and read her post about must-haves for college interns!

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3 comments

  1. Anonymous · · Reply

    The “internship” wasnt really an internship… i think as time goes on it will get better. I walked in and he said, “what can we find for you to do”

    1. I totally understand. Sometimes it can feel like you’re a bit of a burden when your bosses are taking time out of their day to think up tasks for you. Hopefully, eventually, you’ll find your place there. The more you learn, the more they’ll have you do – so be open to everything!

  2. […] So You’re an Intern. Now What?  […]

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